Associate Programme Director Kate Griffin pays tribute to Lakshmi Holmström, the preeminent translator of Tamil literature, who passed away this week.
I first came to know Lakshmi Holmström when she took part in the Worlds literary festival, with the writer Ambai. Lakshmi had been translating Ambai’s work from Tamil into English since the early 1990s. As well as giving readings, they visited groups in local libraries and shared with them Ambai’s short stories, an unusual opportunity for readers in Norfolk to learn about the lives of Tamil women in India. And it is for this that Lakshmi will be remembered, for bringing contemporary Tamil writing to world readers. The editor R. Sivapriya has written a tribute to Lakshmi Holmström and her translations in Scroll.in.
In recent years, Lakshmi focused on translating poetry, particularly poetry from Sri Lanka during and after the war. At the British Centre for Literary Translation, Lakshmi gave a workshop with acclaimed Sri Lankan poet R. Cheran; her translation of his collection of poetry is published by Arc Publications. And in February this year, we were delighted to host at Dragon Hall the launch of Lost Evenings Lost Lives, a bilingual anthology of Sri Lankan war poetry edited and translated by Lakshmi Holmström and Sascha Ebeling. It’s a powerful anthology, with a range of poets and styles, and many poems by women. You can listen to a recording of this very moving event here.
Lakshmi was particularly dedicated to translating the work of Dalit writers.
Lakshmi was particularly dedicated to bringing into English the work of Dalit (formerly known as ‘Untouchable’) writers such as Bama, and the voices of young women poets. Her anthology Wild Girls, Wicked Words, featuring Kutti Revathi, Sukirtharani, Malathi Maitri and Salma, was last month included in the Best Translated Book Award poetry longlist. One of the judges, Deborah Smith, wrote about the significance of this controversial collection here.
Lakshmi Holmström was widely recognised as the preeminent translator of Tamil literature, receiving a number of prizes, including the prestigious AK Ramanujan Prize for Translation in South Asia in spring this year. She was also a dedicated teacher and mentor, generous with her time and keen to nurture the next generation of Tamil translators. For the last year or so, she taught (with Subashree Krishnaswamy) the Tamil strand of our Translators Lab, determinedly balancing her bouts of chemotherapy with the more enjoyable demands of the online course, and encouraging her students, of whom she was proud.
Lakshmi was an inspiration to all of us who knew her, and we will miss her very much.
Kate is Associate Programme Director at Writers’ Centre Norwich, specialising in translation and international work.